Figures in a creche can't sing twelve-tone music

When asked why his oratorio El Pessebre (The Manger) ignored contemporary musical developments the great Catalan musician Pablo Casals replied with a smile "The figures in a crèche are folk figures; why, they can't sing twelve-tone music!" In 1939 the Catalan writer Joan Alavadera had fled from Franco's forces in Spain with the draft of a poem celebrating his region's tradition of Christmas crèches. In exile Joan Alvadera shared Pablo Casals' house in Prades, and in 1943 his completed Poema del Pessebre won the annual contest in nearby Perpignan for poems written in Catalan. Many years later Casals asked Alvadera to add extra verses and in 1960 his "peace oratorio" El Pessebre was premiered in Mexico. The little-known oratorio is a delightfully derivative concoction; just let's say that if you like Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel you will like El Pessebre. Fortunately the work is very well served by the Naïve recording from the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya with conductor Lawrence Foster seen above.

It is now time for On An Overgrown Path to take an extended break as we head off to Catalonia, the region that has produced so many path-inspiring bodhisattvas, including Montserrat Figueras, Jordi Savall, Pablo Casals, Raimon Pannikar, Thomas Merton and Salvador Dali. Catalonia was also the cradle of Catharism; not only did this religious movement dare to challenge the hegemony of the Catholic Church, but it also was part of the great Gnostic tradition. This links Catharism to Sufism via the Sufi master Shaykh Suhrawardi, to Hinduism via the shared concept of the Divine spark within (atman and pneuma), and to Buddhism via a shared aspiration for liberation (nirvana), while there also is the little known connection between Pau Casals and the Indian philosopher Krishnamurti. But ultimately Catharism leads back to that spiritual root directory, the Hermetica; which may explain why so many overgrown paths cross in Catalonia.

But I must finish packing the car, check the medical insurance, and load Le Royaume Oublié into the CD multi-changer. So I leave you with these words from Pau Casals which are quoted in the booklet of Lawrence Foster's recording of El Pessebre. Casals spoke them during the Spanish Civil War, but, alas, they still apply today:
'I am repelled by the indifference of a number of countries which contemplate with inner composure and from the purest egoism things that cry out in outrage and shame. Is this the result of so many churches and universities, of all of science, discoveries, and philosophy? ... Religion, love for one's fellow men, respect dignity, goodness - all of them are mere words ... Nothing but malice, unchecked egoism, rawness...'
À bientôt.

Naïve's recording of El Pessebre by the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya, engineered incidentally by Mike Clements (aka Mr Bear) is currently out of the catalogue. However Casals' own recording is available as an MP3 download. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Pliable said…
Can any eagle-eyed reader identify the transcultural architecture in the lower image on the cover of El Pessebre?

I don't think it is the Great Mosque/Cathedral in Cordoba. Is it perhaps the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès in Barcelona - the CD was recorded in the Cultural Centre of Sant Cugat del Vallès.

While I make no claim that El Pessebre is a masterpiece it is certainly one that meets the currently fashionable criteria of "accessible".

So why isn't it heard/performed more? Perhaps because of the Catalan libretto?
billoo said…
Pretty sure it isn't Cordoba..the design, the pillar with the blue and white, like a piece of delicious 'rock,' can't be Islamic, can it?

Khair...have a safe trip Bob (and bring back lots of good music for us all! :-))


Wishing you safe travels, interesting paths, and a safe return!
Ranapipiens said…
"Transcultural", I don't know; modernista, without a doubt.
Those columns are on the balcony above the entrance to the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona. The building is mind-blowingly beautiful and certainly worth a visit.

The columns and other photos:


If you take in a concert, a seat in the second floor stalls can be pretty amazing:

Bon viatge!
Pliable said…
Ranapipiens, thanks for that. There is no problem that can defeat the Overgrown Path readers...

For other readers it is worth visiting the blog that Ranapipiens co-authors -

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